New system of dialogue planned, says Gilmore


THE GOVERNMENT is to put in place a new system of dialogue with unions, employers and other social partners.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore told Siptu’s biennial delegate conference in Ennis that, starting next month, the Government would invite social partners to bilateral meetings involving senior Ministers and the Taoiseach.

However, he said this did not mean a return to old-style social partnership which collapsed at the end of 2009 following the introduction of pay cuts for staff in the public service.

He said that while social partnership was a very formal structure dealing with pay and wider economic issues, the new discussions would deal with industrial relations and allow for the various social partners to put forward their own ideas on improving the economic situation.

Mr Gilmore also told the conference the Government intended to reinstate a reformed joint labour committee system for determining pay and conditions. He said this would ensure robust structures for the protection of the rights of low-paid workers.

He said a recent High Court ruling meant that the joint labour committee system could not continue as it was.

There were some who argued that the system should be abolished entirely but the Government did not intend to go down that route.

He said the Government was working to put back together a functioning system of joint labour committees, and Minister for Enterprise and Jobs Richard Bruton would bring forward legislation in the area next month.

Mr Gilmore also told the conference that legislation being prepared by the Department of Enterprise and Jobs to streamline industrial relations machinery would also give effect to a commitment in the programme for government to reform workers’ rights to engage in collective bargaining.

The Tánaiste said that while a return to social partnership structures of the past was unlikely, there were “real benefits for a country like Ireland from effective social dialogue in terms of greater certainty for investors, maintaining industrial peace and strengthening social solidarity”.

Mr Gilmore said the Government also intended to “reinvigorate” the National Economic and Social Council, with himself and the Taoiseach undertaking to attend a plenary session each year “in order to develop a stronger role for the social partners in finding solutions to common problems”.

“We should not seek consensus for its own sake. We must learn from the past failures of social partnership, including the need to respect the role of Government and the Oireachtas. But given the scale of our difficulties, we must also find ways to work together in the national interest.”

Responding to Mr Gilmore, Siptu president Jack O’Connor said the union did not lose any sleep over the loss of social partnership. While he had confidence that the Labour Party would not allow the most vulnerable workers to be thrown to the wolves as a result of changes to the joint labour committee system, he did not have the same confidence in Mr Bruton and his department.

Meanwhile, the conference passed a composite motion rejecting any derogation from the terms of an EU directive governing pay and conditions for agency workers.